We’re lead to believe that our kids need to be scheduled, their time accounted for. But, what they really need is freedom. White space. Time to be little. Is the fear of missing out preventing us from simplifying our kids’ lives?
Photos courtesy of Andrea Skidmore Photography
I felt like I stepped back in time this afternoon.
After chatting with a friend last night, we decided to meet for a local hike with our kids. Today, she called me to say she was on her way. My son and I grabbed our jackets, drove to the trailhead and met for a wander in the woods.
It was simple.
It didn’t require 37 texts to negotiate the time and place. And we didn’t cancel on each other 5 times over a two-week period before finally meeting.
I’m still smiling. Because it reassured me that life can be easy. It reminded me of what life was like when I was a teenager; the manmade barriers thrown up by busyness didn’t seem to exist then like they do today.
Our kids didn’t need to be enrolled, entertained, scheduled, supervised, coached, or assessed in an adult directed activity to be happy. They led the way and we followed. They were free to take their time. Collect sticks. Throw rocks. Navigate the trail. Find their balance. Get dirty and have fun.
It left me craving more.
I’m conscious of the benefits of a slow childhood so I intentionally avoid over-scheduling our son. But, in our modern world I’m acutely aware that I’m the odd parent out. And that makes it hard.
Join the Free 7 Day Simplifying Childhood Challenge to simplify your family life and take back control of your time, freedom and happiness.
When we go to our local park on weekdays it’s either empty or if it’s after school it’s chock-full of organized sports with no space remaining for free play. Our neighbor’s kids don’t jump the fence like we used to and even if they did, they’re only free on Tuesday between 4pm-5pm; every other time slot is filled with gymnastics, hip hop and music lessons.
Developmental Psychologist David Elkind reports that kids have lost more than 12 hours of free time per week in the last two decades. A report titled, Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need Play in School, published by the Alliance for Childhood, reported that kindergartners in New York and Los Angeles spend nearly three hours per day on reading and math instruction, and less than thirty minutes each day on “choice” or play time.
Children are spending more time in organized sports which has been shown to significantly lower creativity as young adults. It’s not the organized sports themselves that destroy creativity but the lack of down time. Even two hours per week of unstructured play boosted children’s creativity to above-average levels.
With kids being carted from one activity to the next, the days of kids being kids and playing all day long has been erased from our society’s collective memory. We’ve devalued what children need most and replaced it with excessive adult control.
Perhaps, of all the elements of simplifying childhood that I’ve written about, simplifying schedules seems to be the one that causes the most controversy. Yet, it’s a relatively easy thing to do; there are no secrets or special tips you need to do it. It’s as simple as paring back and saying NO.
I think what stops us from simplifying is fear. Fear of missing out. Fear that we may be impeding our children’s future success. Fear of what other’s may think.
It takes a leap of faith and a brave parent to trust that simplifying our children’s lives and giving them down time to play, connect with their families and create simple joy is what our kids really need. We need to protect them from society’s time thieves as they will only keep taking more and more from our kids.
I’m heartened by my experience today. Because no matter what choices we make in life it feels better when we feel like we’re doing it as part of a community, even if it’s small or virtual. As Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Let’s find the courage to “miss out” together so that we can create white space in our children’s lives and give them the freedom to paint it with the vibrant colors they choose. I have no doubt they’ll create works of art beyond our wildest imaginations.
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